Arts Derbyshire


New exhibition at the Museum of Making explores ‘What Photography Can Be’ with artist Oliver Frank Chanarin’s first solo exhibition A Perfect Sentence

A Perfect Sentence is Oliver Frank Chanarin’s first solo exhibition, premiering at the Museum of Making in Derby on Thursday 16 March, as part of FORMAT23, the UK’s leading international photography biennial. The exhibition interrogates the shifting terrain of documentary photography, exploring our drive for attention, the complexities of being seen and the anxieties of being overlooked.

Commissioned and produced by arts organisation Forma in collaboration with Derby Museums, QUAD and Format International Photography festival and five other UK organisations, A Perfect Sentence is the artist’s first solo project in the UK. The venture culminates in a programme of exhibitions and presentations across the country (2023-25), of which the show at Derby’s Museum of Making is the first.

Throughout 2022, Chanarin undertook multiple journeys across the UK, often finding himself on the margins – from suburban fetish groups, to carnival troupes in community halls, to gender activists protesting in the streets. Deploying an analogue camera as a tool for social exchange, collaborative photoshoots gave way to chance encounters with strangers and friends, missteps and wilful attempts at getting lost in the world. The resulting photographs capture a subjective and intimate record of a nation in transition, as Chanarin attempts to reconcile the mercurial nature of identity with the pressing need for new forms of representation.

Chanarin collaborated with the Derby co-production partners to make portraits with people and communities in the city. One of the images produced at the Museum of Making was made in response to conversations with volunteers Pam and Mike (pictured above), who help to build and maintain the model railway.

A Perfect Sentence evolved during a peculiar and unsettling time, when Brexit polarised the nation, Covid-19 forced people into isolation and the public’s consciousness of identity politics heightened. This juncture coincided with the disbanding of Chanarin’s artistic partnership – the internationally acclaimed duo Broomberg & Chanarin – whose collaboration came to an end after working together for over twenty years. In response to these events, Chanarin took a cue from August Sander’s collective portrait of German society, People of the 20th Century (1927-64) and turned to the vernacular of documentary photography.

Oliver Frank Chanarin recalls: “I wasn’t sure how to be a photographer anymore; how to take pictures in this new paradigm; how to approach people in the street, in their homes, in their communities; and what is a reasonable expectation of privacy. I felt unmoored, like a planet that had lost its moon, and I knew the answer was to go back to the impulse that drew me to photography in the first place. Encounters with strangers; the beautiful accidental moments that come with getting lost in the world with a camera.

A Perfect Sentence is shaped by many spoken and unspoken exchanges. I’ve tried to make these encounters healthy and inspiring but the ‘perfect’ here is aspirational because every human interaction is fraught, especially when a camera is involved. In the making I got to be fearless, to seek out one good image in a fog of ten bad ones. They unfold according to my own invisible and intuitive syntax. This is a document of the real, yet a shadow of disbelief binds everything.”

During the year-long production, Chanarin took over 2750 analogue colour negatives, which he hand-printed in the darkroom to produce hundreds of unique, c-type prints. The final artwork comprises 180 images, many of which resemble photographs in development. Experiments with exposure, cropping and colour filtration are made visible through the artist’s cursive notations. The letters and numbers annotating the surfaces alert the viewer to the complexities and slippages of selfhood and declare the inherent subjectivity of image making. Chanarin’s narrative-driven artist texts accompany the photographic installation – poetic prose that fuses fact, fiction and recollection.

Janine Derbyshire, Head of Visitor Experience, Derby Museums says:Derby Museums have been a key partner in the FORMAT Photography Festival since it first began and have had the opportunity to exhibit the work of many different artists and groups of photographers from all over the world. However, FORMAT23 is especially important to us as it has given us the chance to work with Forma, whose values align with our own by giving artists the opportunity to work in coproduction to develop ideas, practices and projects. Working in partnership with QUAD, FORMAT23 and Forma on the production has enabled ourselves and the artist Oliver Frank Chanarin to collaborate with communities across our city through photographic encounters. Still evolving until the moment the work reaches the walls of the gallery, boundaries of portraiture, community and curatorship will continue to be pushed to new levels which is a very ambitious and exciting process to be a part of.”

A Perfect Sentence will see the launch of a digital platform and later in summer 2023, a book will be published by Loose Joints. 72 photographs will be gifted to six national collections, thanks to an Acquisition Commission grant from Art Fund. This impactful legacy helps diversify portraiture holdings and enables the nation’s collections to represent the people in its locale.

Chris Rawcliffe, Artistic Director, Forma says:A Perfect Sentence is by far Forma’s most monumental artist collaboration in our 20 years of commissioning and producing artist works. Oliver Frank Chanarin’s ambition on this epic endeavour was matched by the generosity of hundreds of participants from across the UK as well as the enthusiasm and crucial support from a network of museums and galleries, trusting funding bodies and over fifty local charities, organisations and leaders. The result is a project full of life and candour which will keep reinventing itself as it tours the UK.

The production of A Perfect Sentence is supported by co-commission and co-production partners and has been made possible through generous funding from Arts Council England, an Acquisition Commission grant from Art Fund and Outset Partners.

A selection of photographs from A Perfect Sentence can be seen at the Museum of Making, Derby from Thursday 16 March until Sunday 3 September 2023. Admission to the exhibition is free with an ask to ‘Give What You Think’.

More information can be found on Derby Museums’ website:

Submit your news to Arts Derbyshire

Submit your news items to or fill out this news submission form.

You can also register as a member to list your arts business and events in our directory.


Related news posts

Sign up to our newsletter

Find out what’s on with the Arts Derbyshire newsletter.

Artists, creatives, cultural providers, arts and health specialists – Sign up for one of our professional mailing lists.